Benedict’s resignation renews calls for an African pope


A child prays with his rosary during an evening mass at a Catholic church in Lagos, Nigeria, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. In Africa, where the Catholic church continues to grow, worshippers and clergy greeted Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement Monday that he planned resign with hopes that the continent would see one of its own rise to lead the faithful. AP/Sunday Alamba

LAGOS—Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation has sparked calls for his successor to come from Africa, home to the world’s fastest-growing population and the front line of key issues facing the Roman Catholic Church.

Around 15 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics live in Africa and the percentage has expanded significantly in recent years in comparison to other parts of the world.

Much of the Catholic Church’s recent growth has come in the developing world, with the most rapid expansions in Africa and Southeast Asia.

Names such as Ghana’s Peter Turkson and Nigerian John Onaiyekan have been mentioned as potential papal material, as has Francis Arinze, also from Nigeria and considered a possibility when Benedict was elected, but who is now 80.

Some analysts see the issue as one of justice since Africa has contributed to the Catholic Church to such a large degree, as well as a reflection of a changing world.

“I think that, with the black community’s representation in the larger Catholic community, it is legitimate that we have a black pope,” said Rene Legre Hokou, head of the Ivory Coast League of Human Rights.

“An African pope could give more vitality to the Catholic Church in the black world. It would demonstrate the universal character of the religion.”

A number of African Catholic Church members had a mixed view however, saying they would like to see a fellow African elected pope, but wanted the most qualified person, no matter where he is from.

Pat Utomi, a prominent Catholic in Nigeria who is an economist and former presidential candidate, said he would take pride in seeing an African elected, “but we must take that away.”

“I think what matters is the right person with the vision for the moment,” Utomi said.

At the same time, he said Africa in several ways was representative of major challenges facing the Church, particularly its relationship with an evangelical movement with explosive growth on the continent as well as with Islam.

“I think in some ways a John Paul II was a response to the Soviet Union,” Utomi said. “In some ways the challenge of the Church must be to reach an accommodation—an understanding with Islam and the Pentecostal movement.”

Africans have flocked to evangelical religions, with many seeing them as more relevant to their daily lives, posing a challenge to the Catholic Church.

Also in countries like Nigeria, roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south, religious and ethnic tensions have led to violence.

Onaiyekan, nominated as a cardinal in October and also the archbishop of the Nigerian capital Abuja, has made efforts to foster unity between Christians and Muslims in his country.

“It would take a skilled leader of the church—in the kind of way that a John Paul II reached out to the Eastern church, to the Orthodox churches of the east,” Utomi said.

Vatican watchers say the college of cardinals may seize the moment to elect a Latin-American, African or Asian pope.

Others say 85-year-old Benedict—who is resigning for age reasons—may call on the cardinals to elect someone younger, who is less likely to suffer failing health early in his mandate.

Benedict visited Africa twice, most recently the West African nation of Benin in 2011, while before that Angola and Cameroon in 2009. His Benin visit came 150 years after what is considered the evangelisation of the country by missionaries.

Archbishop of Lagos Alfred Adewale Martins said Benedict should be lauded for his efforts in Africa.

“I believe he is one man that we should be grateful to God for the attitude to the church in general and also the solicitude that he has demonstrated in very many ways to the church in Africa in particular,” said Martins.

But Benedict’s outreach on the continent notwithstanding, there were still doubts over whether an African would be put at the head of the Vatican.

At Saint Antonio da Polana Church in the Mozambique capital Maputo after Benedict’s announcement, parishioner Zeb Renardo said he did not think the time had come.

“I will say categorically that I doubt we will have an African pope,” he said. “I think the moment hasn’t come for us to see an African pope.”

But the rector at Ivory Coast’s Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, a semi-replica of St. Peter’s in Rome and the largest Christian shrine in Africa, said “why not a non-Western pope?”

“The world is now multi-color,” Polish priest Stanislaw Skuza said.

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  • Night

    not the time for that yet………

  • JamesOnThePotomac

    If only Obama were Catholic! But I think he’s hanging around so that he can nominate himself to the Supreme Court.

  • Albert Einstien

    1st RP pope….GO POPE TAGLE….you should choose the name ” POPE RP 1st ” …’s DUE time to ASCEND & RISE….our country is the only major christian country remainng other than spain…for more than 440 years already …pope benedict should support the PAPALSHIP of : POPE RP 1st “……filipinos all over the WORLD should campaign for him…so that cardinals will elect him……go philippines !

    • isellnuts

       First Filipino again?  That is next to impossible. Tagle has just been elevated to cardinal late last year it very unlikely that his name will be voted upon by college of cardinals.

  • dennis

    “Gloria Olivae or Glory of the Olive”…Are we following what Nostradamus or St Malachy´s prediction that the next Pope will be an African or Black? Well,faith is more important above all! Maybe he´s the one who will be name “Peter,the Second of Rome”.

  • dexter ngayan

    Some hold that the black Pope will be the one who leads the Roman Catholic Church into this apostasy

  • Noel

    By electing a first Black Pope, the Vatican is emulating the US for electing a first Black President.  If that’s what it takes to be popular to gain more souls to the Catholic Church, why not?

  • novaliches

    The Latin American are promoting theirs, likewise the African.  Why not the Pinoys promote Cardinal Tagle, no matter how long shot he might be. The truth is Tagle is our best chance  todate  for the papacy. Reuters and Agence France listed Tagle as one of the frontrunners, these agencies are in Europe who have a better read of the Vatican issues than the US media.  Go Go Go Cardinal Tagle.  Cardinal John Paul II was 58 when he was chosen. 

  • Jarred Pulido

    The next pope will still be a caucasian and a european. Thats my bet.

  • Albert

    The poorer the nation, the more powerful and influential the church is.
    They thrive on poverty and despair whilst still taking the last cent of the people in the name of the church and mass.

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